Woohoo, I am on vacation! Finally, after a long season, we packed up our bags and headed over to the in-laws place. This time around, we decided that dad needed to experience some true Canadian culture, so we ended up camping a few nights, one in Jasper, where we managed to get eaten alive by those pesky mosquitoes... but at the same time, had a fabulously relaxing time at the hot springs. My dad, who's never been recreational camping before kept flipping constantly between being amused and amazed at everything that people brought to camp with them. It rained pretty consistently, and even though it was slightly cold and miserable, it was still a brilliant experience for dad. We were also lucky enough to spot a wolf (eating something I don't want to mention) which was pretty rare and of course, elk were everywhere.
The next night at Beaumont was much better, in terms of weather, and the sunset over Fraser Lake was pretty spectacular, as you will see for yourself! We had a pretty good evening, pushing on to the in-laws the next day. So yayyyy, on vacation now, with not much to than relax and enjoy everything in this beautiful Northern BC town.
But before relaxation happens, a few bits of news and a new recipe is up for sharing.
First off, I was lucky enough to win the grand prize in the BCfresh Warba-licious New Nugget Potato contest that I entered my Kerala Style Potato Avial in. I was thrilled to be chosen as the winning entry, and while all credit goes to my wonderful country of birth, I am also really lucky to be able to live in a country with lovely, fresh and local produce that makes my recipes so good. Good ingredients make good food, and its certainly a mantra I live by. So a huge thank you to all those wonderful producers out there who grow these great ingredients that make such great food. And to BCfresh Vegetables and Food Bloggers of Canada for this opportunity to show off the cuisine of my homeland.
Second, my Facebook Page for The Tiffin Box just hit 4000 likes. To be honest, I still can't believe that there are so many people out there reading my site and while 4000 might not seem like a large number, its still staggering to me and I am just so grateful to all of you out there, my friends, fellow bloggers and readers who keep me going through good and tough times, and engage and offer me encouragement and make this little blog a success. To say I am thrilled would be an understatement, and all I can say is a heartfelt 'thank you!!'
So to celebrate, I thought I should post one of my absolute favourite dishes in the world, one that instantly takes me back to the taste of my childhood and is evocative of India in a spicy, tender, crisp, hot way... an appetizer that is enjoyed in homes, dhabas, bars and posh restaurants, and in equal terms, mysterious, intriguing and exciting.
I am, of course, talking about the very classic Chicken 65, the spicy hot fried chicken in yogurt dish from the South of India. I remembered this dish on an afternoon out with my friend Diane at the Taste of Edmonton. This Indian restaurant in Edmonton (which is rather good, if a little on the fusion side) was doing their famous Butter Chicken Samosas and a Cauliflower 65. I tasted their Cauliflower 65, and I was just like, uh uh, this is not the real stuff. The dish was more akin to a Cauliflower Manchurian, rather than the more traditional 65 dishes, which are way spicier and have a slightly different flavour profile. So of course, at this point, Diane's egging me on, wanting to taste a real 65 dish.
So on the very next evening I dig out my frozen Sunworks Farm chicken thighs that I bought in bulk for this very spur-of-the-moment cooking craving reason, and get to work recreating this classic dish of my childhood.
Dad and I browsed through Sanjeev Kapoor's book, but Dad didn't think that the the ingredients or method he described was a traditional 65 dish. So it was off to Skype to call mother dearest, who grumbled at being woken up for just a recipe, but nevertheless dug into her tattered, handwritten recipe notes and muttered out approximate quantities and a rough method. Thankfully, I think I am now finally experienced enough to work with my mum's recipes, so Dad and I worked out quantities, and I started to write down method and techniques.
I actually borrowed on a recent Japanese class that I'd done with my fellow blogger and workmate Jamie Tokuda (he of the very funny Cook With Sumo blog) We'd done Jamie's grandmother's chicken kaaraage recipe, in which he marinates the chicken, then coats it in a seasoned potato starch and deep fries it. In India, we don't tend to cook with potato starch, so I substituted a mixture of seasoned cornstarch and rice flour, and it worked perfectly in adding that crisp, spicy, seasoned coating that Chicken 65 is famous for. Once I'd worked out quantities and method, the recipe came together like clockwork, and before we knew it, Dad and I were nicking pieces of freshly fried chicken, even before I sauteed it into its yogurt seasoning. It reminded me so much of home, and even Dad, who can be quite nitpicky about things that he knows very well, admitted that it tasted even better than the version that he'd had in a famous local restaurant. 'Home cooked...' he said 'is always better... even when you do the cooking here'. Gee, thanks Dad... but still high praise :)
Of course, at this point you're probably wondering about the unusual name of this dish, right? I did say it was mysterious and intriguing.
The interwebz came up with lots of theories, and Dad and I went through each of them... discounting some as absurd and just plain silly, but then some had credence to them. For example, my theory was that a restauranteur in Madras invented this dish in 1965, and so the 65 just stuck to the end of the dish. The theory is sort of valid, because you can also find dishes called Chicken 78, Chicken 84 etc... even though none of them are as famous as the original 65.
The other theory Dad and I considered was that, perhaps, this dish was made with 65 ingredients or spices, but we both discounted it, as the flavour profile certainly wasn't that complex.
Dad's favourite theory about the naming of Chicken 65 was that in the war of 1965, North Indian soldiers in Tamil Nadu, who didn't know how to speak the local Tamil language, liked the chicken dish that was Number 65 on the menu, and just started referring to it as that 'Chicken 65'. It makes sense in a weird sort of way, I guess.
But, whatever be the reason for this strange name, Chicken 65 is a well beloved dish of South India, and once you taste it, you'll certainly know why legends are built around it :)
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (around 1 kg)
Oil, to deep fry
1 tablespoon Kashmiri chilli powder *see notes
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Juice of half a lemon (2 - 3 tablespoons)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
Fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste
Seasoned Crisp Coating:
5 tablespoons cornstarch (cornflour)
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon rice flour (optional)
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Greek style yogurt
1 - 2 tablespoons Kashmiri chilli powder (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons unscented oil (I use canola)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
2 hot, green birds eye chillies, whole or slit lengthways
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
Fresh chopped cilantro, to garnish
Lemon or lime wedges, to serve
Cut the chicken thighs into bite sized pieces, 3 - 4 pieces per thigh, depending on how big the thighs are.
Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Season to taste, and rub the marinade into the chicken pieces. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 1 hour.
Bring the chicken pieces back to room temperature.
Heat the oil for deep frying, in a small, deep pot. I like to deep fry the chicken pieces at 375 F.
Place all the ingredients for the seasoned coating in a large bowl, and mix well. Place the beaten egg in another bowl.
Dip each of the chicken pieces into the beaten egg, then dredge in the seasoned flour mixture. Very gently, lower the coated chicken pieces into the hot oil (4 - 5 pieces at a time), and fry for 5 - 7 minutes, until crisp and just cooked through. Remove on to absorbent kitchen paper, drain and let cool a little.
(These pieces are mighty tasty right now, but for traditional Chicken 65, follow the next steps)
Whisk together the yogurt, Kashmiri chilli powder, ground cumin and coriander, black pepper and lemon juice. Taste and season with a little salt.
Heat about 3 tablespoons of unscented oil in a saute pan or a wok. When hot, add the chopped garlic, ginger and green chillies. Fry for about 30 seconds, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
Add the fried chicken pieces to the pan, and toss through. Pour in the yogurt sauce, and stir fry on a high heat, until the yogurt is absorbed into the chicken and the dish is fairly dry. Taste and season with a pinch of sugar and more salt, if required.
Serve hot as an appetizer, garnished with fresh cilantro and lemon or lime wedges.
* Note: Kashmiri chilli powder is available at Indian groceries. I like the Eastern brand, but most brands will have a version. If substituting normal hot chilli powder, reduce down fairly significantly, because Kashmiri chilli powder is a lot milder. Taste and readjust as needed. To get the bright red colour that Kashmiri chilli powder imparts, you can add a tablespoon of sweet paprika instead.